Being the first team to 90 wins, the Yankees can’t wait for the playoffs, but which opposing pitchers will be waiting for them?
The calendar has turned from August to September, and with Labor Day upon us and summer behind us, that can only mean one thing- playoff baseball is around the corner. As of September 1, the Yankees sit atop all of baseball with a 90-48 record, though the Houston Astros are hot on their tail for the best record in the American League. The AL Wild Card race is a contentious one between the Rays, Indians and Athletics, while the Twins hold a 5.5 game lead over the Indians in the AL Central. With the Yankees lined up to likely face one of these four teams in the ALDS, here’s a look at how their offense stacks up against each of those teams’ starting rotations.
Tampa Bay Rays:
The Yankees’ AL East counterpart, the Rays are by far the team the Yankees are moth familiar with of the four. The Yankees have already faced off against Tampa Bay 17 times this season and will have one last two-game road trip at the Trop in late September. The team has employed an “opener” in many of their games this year and would likely do so in the playoffs as well.
Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow are both currently on the IL and while both of them will likely return in time for the playoffs, it’s unclear whether their roles will be as starters or relievers. Yonny Chirinos has blossomed into a reliable starter for them as well, but is also on the IL and isn’t expected to return until mid-September, so he also may not have a defined role going into the playoffs.
Ryan Yarbrough began this year as a reliever for the Rays before they experimented with using him as a starter. His last four appearances have been as a starter, so he could definitely work his way into the playoff rotation as well.
This leaves Tampa’s one reliable starter for the ALDS as Charlie Morton. Morton has enjoyed a fantastic season, working his way into Cy Young talks while posting a 3.11 ERA and 13-6 record across 28 starts. He has made three starts against the Yankees this year, pitching a total of 15.1 innings while giving up 11 runs (nine earned), which equates to an ugly 5.28 ERA. The Rays have gone 1-2 in those games, while Morton himself has gone 1-1. However, Morton did shut down the Yankees when he started Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, and he’s the only one of the pitchers named who has postseason experience, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he shuts the Yankees’ bats down.
Tampa’s pitching success in the playoffs will likely be largely reliant on the roles and performance of Glasnow and Snell. Though Morton, Yarbrough, and Chirinos have looked impressive at times, it’s unlikely that those three along would be able to successfully silence the Yankees’ bats in a best of five series.
The Yankees’ two series against the A’s were both played in the last two weeks, and one thing is clear: they may not have the big names that scare you, but they’re a pesky team that you don’t look forward to facing. Beyond those annoying drums at the Coliseum, they have a deep starting rotation full of plenty of guys who may not have the nastiest stuff of the most impressive track records, but they can shut you down on any given day.
Mike Fiers has put together the best season of any of the A’s starting pitchers, going 13-3 with a 3.40 ERA through 28 starts. He’s an interesting breed of pitcher, as he strikes out a lot of batters, but also walks plenty and gives up his fair share of long balls. But when he’s on, he’s tough to beat- he even threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Reds. Chris Bassitt has also put together a solid year for Oakland, as he’s gone 9-5 while posting a 3.67 ERA and striking out 118 batters in 23 starts. One of those two would likely start the Wild Card Game with the other getting the ball for ALDS Game 1.
Beyond Fiers and Bassitt, the rest of the A’s playoff rotation isn’t super clear at this point. Brett Anderson and trade deadline pickups Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark have all been solid in the 2nd half of the season, and Sean Manaea shut down the Yankees’ offense on Sunday in his first outing of the season after missing most of the year rehabbing from shoulder surgery. Oakland’s rotation may not throw the flashiest names at you, but each of those looked solid against the Yankees across the teams’ two series against each other. Although Oakland deployed an “opener” against the Yankees in the 2018 Wild Card Game, their rotation is now deep enough that they likely won’t be using one in the playoffs.
The Indians have been reeling as of late, but if they manage to grab one of the Wild Card spots, they just mat have the strongest starting pitching of these four teams, even though they dealt Trevor Bauer to the Reds at the deadline.
Shane Bieber has been a very nice surprise for the Indians this season, as the 24-year-old has gone 12-7 with a 3.27 ERA in 28 starts and 1 relief appearance. One Bieber stat that jumps out is his fantastic 6.22 strikeout to walk ratio- he’s struck out 224 batters and walked only 36 across his 181.2 innings of work this season. Mike Clevenger has also impressed this season, going 10-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 15 starts. He’s allowed just six home runs all season, a stat that suggests that he may be capable of keeping the Yankees’ power hitters at bay.
Corey Kluber fractured a bone in his elbow earlier this season and hasn’t pitched since May, but he’s currently on a rehab assignment in the minor leagues and is definitely a name you don’t want to face in October. Perhaps the most established of any pitcher on these four teams, Kluber has a career 3.16 ERA across nine seasons and was an All-Star every year from 2016-2018. If Kluber for some reason doesn’t return for the playoffs, expect Adam Plutko or Zach Plesac to get a start in his place.
The Yankees’ visit to Target Field in July showed that if these two teams match up in the playoffs, we could be in for some high-scoring games. But although the Twins’ offense has largely been the reason for their surprisingly incredible season, their starting pitching shouldn’t be overlooked in the slightest.
Jose Berrios is a superstar in the making, a two-time All-Star who is a good September away from a second straight 200 strikeout season. After an impressive start to the season, he fell off in August, allowing 23 earned runs in 27.1 innings over five starts. He hasn’t been the most consistent, but when he’s on, there aren’t many pitchers better than him in the game.
Former Yankee Michael Pineda has put together a respectable 2019 season after missing all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery. Yankees fans know the book all too well on Pineda- he can pump high 90’s fastballs with ease and looks fantastic when he’s feeling it, but he’s incredibly inconsistent and gets hit hard more often than you’d like. His control issues of the past have subsided significantly, as he’s walked just 25 batters in 134 innings this season after walking 53 in 175.2 innings with the Yankees in 2016. He’s won each of his last three starts, not allowing more than six hits in any of them, though he did give up four home runs. Pineda is a very beatable pitcher, but his stuff is up there with the best of them when he’s on.
Jake Odorizzi, Martin Perez, and the injured Kyle Gibson are the other pitchers who could get an ALDS start for Minnesota. Those three aren’t power pitchers, but somewhat like Oakland’s rotation, they can get the job done even if they don’t have the most overpowering arsenal. The Yankees have struggled at times against finesse pitchers this season, and the last thing they’d want in the playoffs is to be overmatched by a pitcher topping out at 92.